Madrid region faces early election after infighting triggers political earthquake

When Ciudadanos turned on the Popular Party in southeastern Murcia, it was not expecting a chain reaction spreading all the way to Andalusia and Castilla y León

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso.
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso.EUROPA PRESS/O.CAÑAS.POOL (Europa Press)

Spain’s butterfly effect began in the southeastern region of Murcia. The precarious balance between the country’s two main political blocs has been broken by what started out as a local move but that quickly snowballed into an event with national repercussions.

In just a few hours on Wednesday, a no-confidence motion filed in Murcia against the conservative Popular Party (PP) by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens) led to the fall of the regional government of Madrid, and threatened to destabilize other regions such as Andalusia and Castilla y León.

As a result of the initiative to push the PP out of power in Murcia, the Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso, also of the PP, said she was dissolving her own legislature and calling an early election on May 4. Díaz Ayuso’s move, announced at midday on Wednesday, aimed to prevent a no-confidence vote against her own executive in Madrid, where the PP has won every regional election since 1991 (although it did not govern until 1995 following a deal between the PSOE and United Left).

“The time has come to think big,” said Díaz Ayuso in a 10-minute press conference to explain her plans for an early election. “I have made this decision against my will. I cannot allow Madrid to lose its freedom.”

Later, she also sacked her deputy premier, Ignacio Aguado of Ciudadanos, which is the junior partner in the Madrid government. All of the regional department chiefs from that party were also sent home.

Her deputy Aguado said he feels “betrayed” by the regional premier and demanded that she reconsider. “This is a personal whim. It is absolutely irresponsible. There is no greater betrayal than to break one’s word. [...] I can’t believe the amount of lies that she said,” he told the Cadena SER radio network.

A pre-emptive move

Ciudadanos spokesperson in Murcia Juan José Molina and Socialist deputies Francisco Lucas (c) and María del Carmen Fernández presenting the motions of no confidence.
Ciudadanos spokesperson in Murcia Juan José Molina and Socialist deputies Francisco Lucas (c) and María del Carmen Fernández presenting the motions of no confidence.Marcial Guillén (EFE)

The Murcia motion is being presented jointly by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos, and Díaz Ayuso feared a similar alliance could seek to push her out of power in Madrid.

Reacting to her announcement, the PSOE and the leftist Más Madrid registered two no-confidence motions against Díaz Ayuso in an effort to stop the snap election from taking place. At around 4.30pm, it emerged that the Madrid regional assembly’s governing board had accepted the motions. These were registered on the legal basis that the election announcement is not official until it is published in the regional gazette on Thursday. Once this happens, it cannot be reversed and any subsequent motions would fail to stop the vote.

If Madrileños do get called to a vote on May 4, the election is likely to change the political landscape, especially on the right end of the spectrum, where the far-right Vox has been making significant gains, most recently at the Catalan election in February. Ciudadanos, which stands to gain its first regional premiership in Spain if the Murcia motion prospers, now faces the unexpected prospect of losing its hold on the powerful Madrid region.

Díaz Ayuso’s executive has been pushing back against strict coronavirus measures, arguing they are bad for the economy and framing them as an encroachment on personal liberties. Its restrictions on mobility and business opening hours are looser than in other regions of Spain despite currently having the highest 14-day incidence rate in the country.

More motions

Later in the day, the PSOE in the nearby region of Castilla y León – home to large cities such as Burgos, Salamanca and Valladolid – made a similar move and registered a no-confidence motion against the coalition government of the PP and Ciudadanos. The latter said it would not break with its partner and rejected the idea of supporting the motion.

All eyes are now on the large southern region of Andalusia, which is also run by a coalition of the PP and Ciudadanos. The government there has stated that its stability is assured despite calls for an early election by the far-right Vox, which props up the coalition. And Ciudadanos has said it plans to stand by its partner.

English version by Susana Urra.

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